Saturday, May 12, 2012

Justice League of America

Have you ever watched a film so bad, you're convinced it's a parody and not in one of those "Scary Movie" or "Airplane" kind of parodies, where a little money was spent on it but a parody that you're convinced someone made with their friends?

That's how I felt watching 1997's "The Justice League of America." But then I saw Miguel Ferrer ("Crossing Jordan" and one epiosde of "Will &  Grace" where he won't give Grace his business unless she gets Will to go out with him) and I knew it was for real. [May 13th correction: Ferrer was on "Crossing Jordan," I typed "Medium."  My mistake.]

Click here for IMDB listing.

This is so awful.  The stunts are so cheap to non-existent.  And you're clued in on that early on.  Kenny Johnston plays Barry Allen and he's being kicked out of his apartment because he lost his job and owes rent.  So the complex manager is in his upstairs apartment while Barry's on the front yard and the manager's tossing Barry's clothes out the window.  Barry gets a call/page (I don't know, it just starts ringing and what did he answer?) and says he has to go but he'll be back when the guy tosses out his stereo or DVD player or I don't know what.  Maybe VCR?  (The film's from 1997.)  He makes a point of showing it and getting Barry's attention.  Then he drops it.

How does this indicate that you're watching a really cheap show?

It falls and hits the ground and breaks.

If you're not a fan of comics -- or DC comics -- you may not get my point yet.

Barry Allen is the Flash.  Meaning the second the guy was going to toss it or even after he did, Barry has the power to run and catch it before it hits the ground.

This was cheaply made.

It's a TV movie that was supposed to be a pilot.  Some people are flat out awful.  I would include Kimberly Oja who plays Tori Olafsdotter on that list.  As the victim to be rescued?  She'd be believable.  As super hero Ice?  Not at all.  She's miscast and the bad script can't help her.  I'll come back to the acting.


Yeah, that's how cheap the whole thing is.  It's okay if you've never heard of Ice.  There aren't a lot of big characters in the piece.  Besides Flash, the other big one is Green Lantern and Matthew Settle plays him.  Settle's probably the only one who manages to pull it off.  Even with a hideous costume and no real storyline to speak of, Settle makes you believe he's Green Lantern (and the alter ego Guy Garnder).  Watching this crappy pilot, the big question has to be why someone didn't say: Okay, Settle works, let's use this to launch a Green Lantern TV show starring him.

If you don't know Ice, you won't know Fire.  They are minor DC characters.  Most people have never heard of them.  Fire is played by Michelle Hurd who is better in her role than Oja but she's giving some awful lines to say.

Such as?  The villain's unleashing bad weather (I'm not joking) and at one point, a wall blows over on some construction workers.  It lands on some beams or something so it doesn't flatten them but it traps them.  She burns a door through the wall and tells them, "Coffee break's over, boys."

It's not funny, it's not cute.

Or something?  The camera never seems to be where it should.  In fairness, that might be because they didn't have a budget for stunts so the camera tries to hide that.

The worst acting isn't Oja.  And, again, she's miscast.  I could see her doing the same performance as a victim and being really good in the role.  She's also likeable which is apparently the whole point of the pilot.  MTV's "Real World" was all the rage so what "The Justice League" does is try to take the heroes and put them in that setting.  So you get a lot of talking to the camera, etc.  If that sounds interesting to you, click here and go to YouTube where you'll find Pfeil Productions' parody "Meet the Justice League: Episode 1" which is far funnier and is intended to be.  That's something a group of friends made as a parody and it works as a parody.

But this TV pilot is awful.  Why would you want to sit through this?  Did anyone ever ask that?

"Real World" wasn't popular with kids.  It was popular with teens.  But kids aren't going to watch it done with super heroes.  And it's just so annoying.

John Kassir is awful as Ray Palmer, the Atom.  He's awful in the role and the character is the last needed -- especially on a cheap budget (the Atom's big power is his ability to reduce himself to the size of an atom).

I'm ignoring Martian Manhunter.  Why?  I'm Black.

If you're a person of color and read comics, you're aware of how few people of color there are in comic books -- even now.  So when a person of color comes along, you expect them to be played by a person fo color.  Martian Manhunter is green.  He's played by a White man.

And it's a White man from the sitcom "M*A*S*H."  Get the problem?

This was a really awful movie and you can't believe it ever got a network to pay for it to be filmed.  This is just awful, the worst.  You can find it on YouTube in parts and also the full movie in one stream.

Going out with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Friday, May 11, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, Republicans want to know why a man who allegedlly killed 5 US service members has had his charges dismissed by an Iraqi court, the political crisis continues with all kinds of whispers about who might replace Nouri al-Maliki, the US State Dept gets 'creative' in court, the numbers don't lie and the White House has done nothing to help Iraqi refugees (that's ones who helped American forces and all others as well), Martin Kobler attempts to mislead therby shaming himself and the United Nations, violence has claimed nearly 1400 lives in Iraq since the start of the year, and more.
Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports, "An Iraqi court has cleared a Lebanese militant once held by U.S. forces in the deaths of five U.S. soldiers, saying there wasn't enough evidence against him, an official with Iraq's judicial council told CNN."  His case is being appealed.  He was in US custody as were others said to be responsible for the 5 deaths.  But the White House began making deals for their release in 2009.  From June 9, 2009:

This morning the New York Times' Alissa J. Rubin and Michael Gordon offered "U.S. Frees Suspect in Killing of 5 G.I.'s." Martin Chulov (Guardian) covered the same story, Kim Gamel (AP) reported on it, BBC offered "Kidnap hope after Shia's handover" and Deborah Haynes contributed "Hope for British hostages in Iraq after release of Shia militant" (Times of London). The basics of the story are this. 5 British citizens have been hostages since May 29, 2007. The US military had in their custody Laith al-Khazali. He is a member of Asa'ib al-Haq. He is also accused of murdering five US troops. The US military released him and allegedly did so because his organization was not going to release any of the five British hostages until he was released. This is a big story and the US military is attempting to state this is just diplomacy, has nothing to do with the British hostages and, besides, they just released him to Iraq. Sami al-askari told the New York Times, "This is a very sensitive topic because you know the position that the Iraqi government, the U.S. and British governments, and all the governments do not accept the idea of exchanging hostages for prisoners. So we put it in another format, and we told them that if they want to participate in the political process they cannot do so while they are holding hostages. And we mentioned to the American side that they cannot join the political process and release their hostages while their leaders are behind bars or imprisoned." In other words, a prisoner was traded for hostages and they attempted to not only make the trade but to lie to people about it. At the US State Dept, the tired and bored reporters were unable to even broach the subject. Poor declawed tabbies. Pentagon reporters did press the issue and got the standard line from the department's spokesperson, Bryan Whitman, that the US handed the prisoner to Iraq, the US didn't hand him over to any organization -- terrorist or otherwise. What Iraq did, Whitman wanted the press to know, was what Iraq did. A complete lie that really insults the intelligence of the American people. CNN reminds the five US soldiers killed "were: Capt. Brian S. Freeman, 31, of Temecula, California; 1st Lt. Jacob N. Fritz, 25, of Verdon, Nebraska; Spc. Johnathan B. Chism, 22, of Gonzales, Louisiana; Pfc. Shawn P. Falter, 25, of Cortland, New York; and Pfc. Johnathon M. Millican, 20, of Trafford, Alabama." Those are the five from January 2007 that al-Khazali and his brother Qais al-Khazali are supposed to be responsible for the deaths of. Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Robert H. Reid (AP) states that Jonathan B. Chism's father Danny Chism is outraged over the release and has declared, "They freed them? The American military did? Somebody needs to answer for it."

At the end of 2011,  Liz Sly and Peter Finn (Washington Post) reported on the US handing Ali Musa Daqduq over to the Iraqis:

He was transferred to Iraqi custody after the Obama administration "sought and received assurances that he will be tried for his crimes," according to Tommy Vietor, spokesman for the National Security Council in Washington.
This week, Jack Healy and Charlie Savage (New York Times) reported, "Although military officials said he confessed freely and that his interrogation had not included any harsh techniques, his statements to American military interrogators would probably be deemed inadmissible in Iraqi court.  But the Obama administration had hoped that he would instead face charges of illegally entering Iraq, a crime that could result in a 10-year prison sentence." Law professor Robert Chesney offered Tuesday, "But recall that the charge was expected to be no more than a claim that Daqduq had been in the country illegally.  In that case, it is very hard to see how in the world there was not sufficient evidence to support the prosecution.  Unless of course he was not in the country illegally after all.  If the latter turns out to be the case, then it raises a serious question about the due diligence performed at the time of Daqduq's transfer to Iraqi custody, and helps me better appreciate why McKeon's NDAA bill includes what I've called the Daqduq rule."  The Wall St. Journal editorial board noted yesterday that the illegal entry and other charges were tossed out by the Iraqi court.  The Republican Senators serving on the US Senate Judiciary Committee registered their objection yesterday:
May 10, 2012

Via Electronic Transmission

The Honorable Eric H. Holder, Jr.                    The Honorable Leon Panetta
Attorney General                                             Secretary of Defense
U.S. Department of Justice                              Department of Defense
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.                      Pentagon
Washington, D.C. 20530                                 Washington, D.C. 20301

Dear Attorney General Holder and Secretary Panetta:

According to a report in the New York Times on May 7, 2012, an Iraqi court has ordered the release of Ali Musa Daqduq.  Daqduq is a senior Hezbollah field commander who allegedly orchestrated a kidnapping that resulted in the deaths of five U. S. soldiers in Karbala, Iraq in 2007.  He also has close ties with Iran's Qods Force, including training its fighters in the use of improvised explosive devices (IED) and other insurgent tactics employed against U.S. troops.  Daqduq had been in U.S. military custody until the United States turned him over to Iraqi authorities upon exiting Iraq in December 2011.

According to another report in the New York Times earlier this year, Daqduq has been charged with war crimes, including murder, terrorism, and espionage, before a U.S. military commission.  However, those charges were not made public until the New York Times obtained a copy of the charging document.   In fact, it appears that the Administration knew it was going to pursue charges against Daqduq, waited until he was released to Iraq, and then filed the charges, but failed to keep Congress apprised of its plans.
We have expressed a keen interest in Daqduq and in the Administration's plans for him.  In May 2011, Attorney General Holder appeared before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary (Committee) and was specifically asked about prosecution plans for Daqduq.  We followed up with a letter to Attorney General Holder on May 16, 2011, again expressing concerns about, and interest in, how the Administration was going to prosecute Daqduq.  On July 29, 2011, another letter was sent to Secretary Panetta, seeking information about issues relating to Daqduq held by the Department of Defense.  Finally, on August 8, 2011, the Department of Justice responded through a letter from Ronald Weich that indicated the "ultimate disposition of this matter is under consideration by an interagency process that includes . . . the Department of Justice."

Subsequently, Administration officials briefed Congress about Daqduq's imminent release into Iraqi custody.  Yet, they never mentioned that the Administration was considering charges, which were filed approximately two weeks later.  Eight pages of charges, surely involving classified materials or evidence, would require more than two weeks to review, organize, and approve.  This appears to indicate that either the Administration was purposefully withholding information from Congress or it had not done the due diligence required to file charges in a serious case against a dangerous terrorist.  Furthermore, in the future, when the Administration claims that it is aggressively pursuing Daqduq, it will sound disingenuous since we know that he was only charged after he was released to another country.  If the Administration was serious in pursuing Daqduq, officials had many years when they could have brought charges against him, yet the Administration waited until he was not available to prosecute.

Now an Iraqi court has cleared Daqduq of any criminal charges under Iraqi law and, as we and many other observers had feared, may be set free without being held to account for his crimes against the United States and its soldiers.  As it appears Daqduq is on the verge of escaping justice, we again ask for information about the Administration's plans for dealing with this situation.

Accordingly, provide the following information:

•    A copy of the military commission charging document filed against Daqduq;
•    A list of who was involved in this decision and who was the final decision-maker;
•    An explanation of when, if at all, the families of his U.S. victims were consulted about his prosecution;
•    An explanation of whether Daqduq has been notified of the U.S. charges against him;
•    A description of which components in the Administration have been, currently are, or expect to be involved in the Daqduq matter;
•    A description of efforts to have Daqduq transferred into U.S. custody after he was charged, including whether any formal extradition request was made to the Iraqi government;
•    A description of any conditions (such as transfer to a civilian court) required by the Iraqi government for extraditing Daqduq and the U.S. response to those conditions;
•    An explanation of where Daqduq is expected to be held, if he were transferred into U.S. custody;
•    A description of charges against Daqduq from any other country of which the Administration is aware;
•    A description of whether and how the Administration assisted in Daqduq's prosecution by the Iraqi government;
•    An explanation of why briefers from the Administration failed to indicate that criminal charges were prepared but not presented to a military commission prior to turning Daqduq over to the Iraqi government.
•    An assessment of why the Iraqi prosecution of Daqduq failed, including any problems with the Iraqi court's willingness or capability to consider valid evidence provided by the United States, such as forensic evidence and statements made while in U.S. custody;
•    A description of options the Administration is considering for next steps in the handling of Daqduq's case; and,
•    A description of Administration discussions with the Iraqi government about next steps in the handling of Daqduq's case.

Given the serious consequences that could result from Daqduq's release from Iraqi custody and the important issues raised regarding future decisions to turn over detainees to foreign governments, we appreciate your response no later than May 25, 2012.

Chuck Grassley
Orrin G. Hatch
Jon Kyl
Jeff Sessions
Lindsey Graham
John Cornyn
Micheal S. Lee
Tom Coburn
Now to the US Embassy in Baghdad. 

Darrell Mueller
My good friend and Interpreter for 12 months has been waiting over 13 months for the "administrative processing" to run it's course after his interview in March of 2011 and I have been told by homeland security that this "processing" has be...See More

Noor AlHassani dears who working at U.S. Embassy Baghdad pleaseeeeeeeeeeeeeee answer above question from @darrell mueller beacuse there are many people same case
It's 8 days since Mueller left the comment and you'll quickly notice that the Embassy hasn't rushed to add a response.  Near the end of last month, Trudy Rubin (Philadelphia Inquirer) quoted US Vice President Joe Biden's national security Adviser Antony Blinken stating of Iraqis who had helped the US, "We owe these people.  We have a debt to these people. They put their lives on the line for the United States."  But Rubin pointed out, "Consider this: In 2008, Congress mandated 25,000 special immigrant visas (known as SIVs) for Iraqis who helped us over a period of five years; fewer than 4,500 have been issued. According to State Department figures, 719 were granted in fiscal 2011 and 569 during the first six months of fiscal 2012. No breakthrough yet."  And the situation is much worse when you look at all Iraqi refugees being admitted to the US. 
These figures cover Fiscal Years.  October 1st 2008 was the start of Fiscal Year 2009.  So that year includes four months when Barack Obama is not president (October, November, December and the bulk of January).  Fiscal Year 2009 saw the US admit a total of 18,838 Iraqis.  Fiscal Year 2010 (October 2009 through September 2010) saw the US drop that number slightly to 18,016.  Fiscal Year 2011 saw an even more dramatic drop with only 9,388 Iraqi refugees admitted to the US.  So far in Fiscal Year 2012, the US has admitted only 2,501 Iraqi refugees (that figure is through March 31, 2012). While the number of Iraqis admitted has dramtically decreased, the number of Iraqis being referred to the US Refugee Admissions Program has not seen a corresponding dramatic decrease.  (2009 was the year with the highest number of Iraqis applying for admission with 49,276; 2010 saw 46,472 and 2011 saw 39,878.)
The political crisis has become as consistent as the violence and both are now a part of daily life.  Alsumaria reports that Moqtada al-Sadr declared yesterday that the Parliament should be dissolved and early elections held to address the crisis and that Nouri was asserting himself as a dictator.  Earlier (May 6th), MP Hassan Sinead of Nouri's State of Law had also declared the Parliament should be dissolved and new elections held.  Al Mada adds that Iraqiya's Adnan al-Janabi has also declared that early elections should be held. 

Meanwhile Alsumaria reprorts Iraqi President Jalal Talabani met with the leader of the National Alliance, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, today and issued a statement saying that they identified problems and discussed appropriate solutions that could strenghten all parties and exclude any of the participants.   The article notes that Iraq has seen the crisis grow from a split between State of Law on one side and Iraqiya, the Kurds and Moqtada's bloc on the other and now involves all the players.  Ibrahim al-Jaafari was discussed as a potential replacement for Nouri at the April 28th Erbil meet-up attended by Talabani, Moqtada, Ayad Allawi, KRG President Massoud Barzani and Speaker of Parlaiment Osama al-Nujaifi. Dar Addustour notes that an unnamed member of the National Alliance is denying that they are supporting Adel Abdul-Mahdi to be the next prime minister -- or that he or Baqir al-Jibrazubayda have the backing of Turkey or the US.  Adel Abdul-Mahdi has long wanted to be prime minister and came close many times. He is a member of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.  He was one of Iraq's two vice presidents during Nouri al-Maliki's first term -- Tareq al-Hashemi was the other.  He and al-Hashemi were named vice presidents for a second term in November 2010.  Later a third vice president was named.  Iraq dropped back down to two vice presidents after the national protests and Nouri's promise to meet the demands and to address corruption in 100 days.  When Nouri failed to do so, Adel Abudl-Mahdi announced he was resigning and cited the government's inability to address the needs of the people or the corruption.

Since December 21st, Talabani and al-Nujaifi have been calling for a national conference to resolve the political crisis.  Alsmuria reports the two men met today and discussed the latest developments in the political crisis "the country has witnessed for a long time."  Nouri al-Maliki stalled on the national conference in January and February, throwing one road block up after another such as who would attend, who wouldn't, what it would be called, etc.  In March, Nouri began stating that it couldn't be held that month because of the Arab League Summit at the end of March.  Talabani declared that the national conference would be held April 5th and then Nouri began echoing that; however, April 4th it was announced that the conference was being called off.

Marwan Kabalan (Gulf News) offers this take on the political crisis:

Al Maliki may have strong political ambitions of his own, but his actions clearly align with Iran's strategic interest in consolidating Shiite control in Iraq. With Iran emerging as the most influential foreign power in Iraqi politics, Sunni Arab countries, particularly in the Gulf, fear that Iran might just be about to reshape the political map of the region in its favour. This will force them to do whatever it takes to prevent this probability. Al Maliki's sectarian policies along with the increasing polarisation between the two banks of the Gulf -- Arab and Persian -- Iraq might very well slide back to a full-fledged civil war that would be incomparable with the 2006-2007conflict.

Al Mada quotes Kuristan Alliance MP Shawn Mohammed Taha stating that those who disagree with Nouri will quickly discover that there are charges against them and that Nouri intends to take out political rivals by having them arrested.  Alsumaria reports on rumors swirling around Baghdad that the National Dialogue Front will be splitting from Iraqiya and joining Nouri's State of Law.  Saleh al-Mutlaq is the leader of the National Dialogue Front.  Yes, he is the Deputy Prime Minister (one of three) that Nouri's been trying to strip of his post after al-Mutlaq told CNN that Nouri was becoming a dictator. 
Saturday the US State Dept issued the following statement :
Today, the fifth convoy of approximately 400 Camp Ashraf residents safely arrived at Camp Hurriya.  The United States welcomes the continued cooperation of the Government of Iraq and the residents of Camp Ashraf with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq to complete the relocation process, as set forth in the December 25, 2011 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the United Nations and the Government of Iraq.  The United States appreciates the extensive resources expended by the Government of Iraq to provide for the residents' safe relocation, and calls for continued adherence to the commitments in the MOU, especially those which provide for the safety, security, and humanitarian treatment of the residents. 
With over half of the initial resident population now relocated to Camp Hurriya, the United States will be able to increase its focus on the safe relocation of the residents from Camp Hurriya out of Iraq.  We join the call of the United Nations to member states to assist in the permanent relocation of eligible residents from Iraq. 
To do its part, the United States has informed the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other governments that we are willing to consider referrals of some individuals from the UNHCR.  These referrals will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, consistent with applicable U.S. law.  We urge our friends and partners in the international community to step forward and help achieve a humanitarian resolution.
Camp Ashraf is a place where Iranian dissidents set up shop -- with the Iraqi government's permission -- long before the 2003 US-invasion.  When the US invaded, they gave protected persons status to the residents.  But that's meant nothing since Barack Obama was sworn in as US president because Nouri's forces have twice launched major attacks on Camp Ashraf.  Residents who would like to leave Iraq have had to deal with the fact that the US government has classified them as terrorists.  That classification makes it very difficult for countries to admit Camp Ashraf residents.  The status is one that a US federal court has ordered the State Dept to review . . . two years ago.  Ken Maginnis sits in the United Kingdom's House of Lords and, at Huffington Post UK, he reports today:
This week, at a federal court hearing about the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, we witnessed the State Department turn Justice on its head. Despite the public testimony of their own military commanders it was prepared to employ a brazen and blatant lie in order to keep the MEK listed as a foreign terror group (FTO).
Throughout the hearing at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Robert Loeb, the lawyer who represented Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, referred to the dissidents' home at Camp Ashraf as a "paramilitary base". He went further by saying the U.S. government has no way of knowing that the MEK is not a terror group since its members have never allowed a thorough inspection of the 15-square-mile Camp Ashraf. "They say that they have turned over a new leaf, but that has never been verified by the US military," Mr Loeb said.
This claim is so far from the truth that it undermines the very concept of Justice. That because, sitting in the very courtroom were at least two US military chiefs who had done exactly that - inspected Camp Ashraf, searched it with a fine tooth comb, and concluded that its people were not terrorists.
Brig. Gen. David Phillips and Col. Wesley Martin, who took charge of Ashraf after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, could only look at each other in disbelief.
Does the US government ever get charged with perjury these days?  CNN adds:
Viet Dinh, a former Justice Department lawyer representing the MEK, said the group no longer poses a military threat because the U.S. Army peacefully disarmed the group after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The U.S. government treated MEK members as protected people under international law until the U.S. turned over responsibility to the Iraqi government.
Dinh told the court the State Department's delay in making a decision is a violation of MEK's due process rights, and liberties granted under the U.S. Constitution.
"The secretary has recognized (MEK's) renunciation of violence and is legally bound to delist the organization," Dinh wrote in a filing in February." She cannot pocket veto (MEK's) application for revocation of its terrorist status."
The MEK enjoys the support of prominent high-ranking officials from past Democratic and Republican administrations who speak out against the group's continued presence on the terror list.
And Democratic and Republican members of Congress also speak out against the continued classification of Camp Ashraf residents as terrorists -- this includes the entire Senate Armed Service Committee.  Ashish Kumar Sen (Washington Times) maintains, "Mrs. Clinton will decide on removing the MEK from the list no later than 60 days after Camp Ashraf has been vacated, and data gathered from the relocation has been studied to verify the group's claims that it is not a terror group, Mr. Loeb said."  However, that's not accurate.  The sixty days is a projection, it's not a promise and Loeb stated in court that information may result from a search of the then-empty Camp Ashraf that could delay any decision by Hillary on the issue beyond the 60 days.  How far beyond the sixty days?  Loeb didn't have specific numbers.  This is among the reasons Dinh made the argument that the residents want a decision even if it's a decision against them because they can appeal that.  The limbo status that they've been in for two years now is something very different.   Today the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy in Iraq Martin Kobler declared, "The main challenge will be to find resettlement countries -- third countries where those people who are then recognized as refugees can re-locate."
Kobler also attempted to spin the violence today insisting 600 people died this year.  Pay a little closer attention and you realize he's just talking about Baghdad.  Since the UN's supposedly concerned with all of Iraq, Kobler's little stunt is pretty offensive.  Iraq Body Count not only notes 55 dead so far this month, they noted 290 dead for the month of April, 295 for the month of March,  278 for the month of February and 458 for the month of January.  That's 1376 reported deaths from violence in Iraq since the start of the year.  That's twice as many as "600."  Again, Kobler was being deliberately misleading.  When the United Nations whores what people remember are the rapes by UN peace keepers (many, many times, but try these two who raped a 14-year-old boy in Haiti), the times the UN did nothing while countries were attacked (Iraq for starters -- and then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan declared the Iraq War illegal) and so much more.  Kobler didn't just make himself into a cheap whore with that little stunt, he reminded everyone of just how flawed -- some would say criminal -- the United Nations can be.  A far more realistic picture on the continued violence came not from Kobler but from a business decision.  Jamal al-Badrani (Reuters) reports, "Mobile phone operator Asiacell has closed its offices in the Iraqi city of Mosul, an al Qaeda stronghold, after attacks and threats by militants, security officials and employees said this week."
Now no more smiling mid-crestfall
No more managing unmanageables
No more holding still in the hailstorm
Now enter your watchwoman
-- "Guardian," written by Alanis Morissette, from her Havoc and Bright Lights due out August 28th; "Guardian" is available for download this Tuesday and she'll be performing it Tuesday night on ABC's Dancing With The Stars.

I had hoped to include some of US House Rep Timothy Waltz's questions from Tuesday's hearing.  We may do that in a snapshot early next week.  But veterans and family members of veterans in this community asked if we could include all of the points (from this morning) regarding the issue of the Veterans Administration's huge backlog.  Mattihias Gafni (Contra Costa Times via Stars and Stripes) reports:

Veterans wait nearly a year on average for their disability claims to get processed at the Oakland, Calif., regional center, according to a highly critical federal report released Thursday, leading one congressman to call the facility a bureaucratic "black hole."The Oakland office, which processes benefits claims for veterans from Bakersfield, Calif., north to the Oregon border, had almost 32,500 claims pending an average of 269 days - 89 days longer than the national target time - when the Department of Veterans Affairs inspector general visited in December. As of April, the wait for veterans had increased to 320 average days pending.

This is not the wait time issue that the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing on April 25th or that the House Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing on this week.  The issue here is the VA claims processing and the VA's offered tons and tons of excuses over the last years.  They've told Congress it had to do with equipment issues (computers and computer programs -- "IT" problems, that was an especially popular excuse in 2009) and staffing.  In the last years, they've repeatedly insisted that hiring more people wouldn't actually help them because new hires would require training and that would create further delays.  For that argument to be valid, the only ones who can train new claims processors are those people who are claims processors.  Apparently supervisors don't know how to do the job that those they supervise do.

In addition to the claim, the VA's also had to note that production has become an issue.  They have more claims processors than they did in 2005 but the larger number of personnel has coincided with a decrease in the number of claims processed.  So while personnel has increased, productivity has decreased.   And before you think this is because of new veterans being created by today's wars, that's not the case.  Some of these claims have lingered and lingered.  For one example, let's drop back to a February 28th House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing:

Ranking Member Bob Filner: We got several hundred thousand claims for Agent Orange in our backlog. How long have they been fighting it? Thirty, forty years. People get sicker fighting the bureaucracy than they did with the Agent Orange. So you know what we ought to do -- aside from greatly expanding eligibility to boots on the ground, to the blue waters, to the blue skies and Thailand and Cambodia and Laos and Guam? We ought to honor those Agent Orange claims today. You know, let's give people the peace that they deserve. Let's give you finally some closure here. And, you know, they're telling us, "It costs too much." I don't know if it's a billion dollars or two billion dollars. I don't care what it is frankly. You don't think we owe it to you? We owe it to you. 

Among the Congress members calling out the backlog for years now are US House Rep Bob Filner, Senator Patty Murray (Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee), Senator Richard Burr (Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee), Daniel Akaka (former Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee) and US House Rep Phil Roe.  They have consistently attempted to make sense of this problem and why it is just not dealt with year after year.  We're dropping back to a February 15th House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing when VA Secretary Eric Shinseki offered testimony.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: And I just want to ask a couple -- focus on a couple areas that I've been involved with over the years. One is the claims backlog.  In your budget presentation ou title it "Eliminate The Claims Backlog." But I don't see any real estimate or projection or anything of when you think you're going to do that but I still think that -- in the short run, at least -- to get this turned around your notion of -- I think you used the word "brute force" a few years ago, if I recall that.

Secretary Eric Shinseki: It was probably a poor choice of words.

Ranking Member Bob Filner: No, it's okay. It was good. Gives me something to shoot at, you know? I don't think it's going to work.  I just think all this stuff you have is good stuff but it's too big and, as you point out, there's all kind of factors making it bigger.  I still think you have to take some, I'll say, radical step in the short run -- whether it's to grant all the Agent Orange claims that have been submitted or have been there for X number of years or, as I've suggested at other times, all claims that have the medical information in it and have been submitted with the help of a Veterans Service Officer you accept subject to audit. That is, unless you take some real radical step to eliminate a million of them or 500,000 of them, you're never going to get there. It's going to always be there.  You don't want that as your legacy -- I don't think.  So -- Nor do we.  I think you're going to have to take some really strong steps in terms of accepting stuff that's been in the pipeline a long time, again, that has adequate -- by whatever definition -- documentation and help from professional support. Plus this incredible situation of Agent Orange where, as you know, not only have those claims increaded but we're talking about -- as you well know -- your comrades for thirty or more years that have been wrestling with this.  Let's give the Vietnam vets some peace. Let's give them a real welcome home. Let's grant those Agent Orange claims.  Let's get those -- whatever it is, 100,000 or 200,000  of our backlog -- just get them off the books.  I don't know if you want to comment on that but I still think you're never going to get there with -- All this is good stuff.  We've talked about it on many occasions.  But it's not going to fundamentally -- or at least in the short run change it around so you can get to a base  level of zero or whatever you want to be and move forward from there.

Secretary Eric Shinseki:  Mr. Filner, I'll call on Secretary Hickey for the final details but we've pretty much worked through the Agent Orange -- the increase in Agent Orange claims. I think we're well down on the numbers. I'll rely on her statistic here.

And, of course, despite that claim, the numbers weren't down and that's why, weeks later (as we noted in the first Congressional excerpt), US House Rep Filner would be bringing up the issue of claims processing regarding Agent Orange again.

Here's something to consider: What if service members were as slow to process orders from command as the VA is to process the claims of veterans?

On the issue of wait time and mental health care, the editorial board of  Florida's concludes, "The VA must do a better job than it has been doing in dealing with the very real mental health needs of those who have given so much to this country."  That's true of the wait time and it's also true of the claims processing.
Lastly, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (Senator Patty Murray is the Chair, Senator Richard Burr is the Ranking Member) announces that a hearing scheduled for May 16th has been re-scheduled for May 23rd.
Committee on Veterans' Affairs
United States Senate
112th Congress, Second Session
Hearing Schedule
Update: May 11, 2012
*Wednesday, May 23, 2012 10am Senate Dirksen Office Building Room 562
Hearing: Seamless Transition: Review of the Integrated Disability Evaluation System
*NOTE: This hearing has been rescheduled from its originally announced date of May 16, 2012.
Matthew T. Lawrence
Chief Clerk / System Administrator
Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs

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